Brit Patrick Joynt finds Saigon to be the ideal place to cherish his childhood passion: collecting and revamping old scooters. He has recently begun transforming them into environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient vehicles.
Many would be surprised to learn that quite a large number of Italian scooters produced in the 1950s and 1960s are exported from Saigon Scooter Center (SSC) in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.
Joynt, its owner, has combined his love for the Saigon and scooters into his shop, which caters to a large number of like-minded people.
Joynt visited HCMC in 1997 on a three-day trip, during which he purchased two vintage scooters and brought them back to Britain.
Later, he moved to Vietnam and began exporting Vespa and Lambretta scooters from Vietnam to other countries. When he ran out of supplies, Joynt decided to begin revamping damaged scooters.
To his surprise, the restored bikes are even more popular than original models. He has restored and exported nearly 200 Vespa bikes to dozens of countries in Europe and America.
According to an article from Oct 2007 in the Wall Street Journal, a number of Vespa scooters were parachuted into Vietnam by French troops in the 1950s to use for messenger services. Later, a good number of the bikes were imported into the country as an easy and convenient means of transportation. Vietnam thus became a hotspot for old-style Vespa scooters.
Each currently fetches around US$2,500-5,000, slightly cheaper than similar models in the US.
At the SSC office in Tan Binh district, a small house packed with old bikes, Joynt proudly introduces his latest invention: an electric vintage Vespa scooter, which he named Vtronic.
Electric bikes are considered an effective solution to air pollution caused by the thousands of motorbikes in HCMC that emit large amounts of exhaust. With 15 years of experience in bike trading, Joynt sees electric bikes as a promising prospect in Vietnam and other countries.
“However, when talking about electric bikes, Vietnamese people tend to think of cheap Chinese bikes, which lack durability and good looks. Most classic Vespas look gorgeous, but they’re gas guzzlers and break easily. It suddenly crossed my mind that maybe I can build classic, quality Vespas which run on electricity,” he shared.
He then spent three years researching and building the bike, combining the Vespa’s classic grace with modern technology.
Designed for rides within the city, Vtronic can reach a maximum velocity of 55km/hour after charging its battery for about four hours. Its US-made battery can be recharged up to 3,000 times. With high quality parts, the bike is expected to have at least a 10-year lifetime.
What’s unique about the bike is that it runs exceptionally smoothly and doesn’t produce any sounds or vibrations, even from the engine, which is typical of conventional Vespas.
Joynt designed the Vtronic specifically for the crowded and congested streets of HCMC. When in heavy traffic, the Vtronic moves at a mere 20km/hour, which helps save electricity.
Joynt uses his bikes to connect with like-minded people and join in charitable activities. In December every year since 2005, he and other Vespa enthusiasts have made charity trips on their bikes to orphanages in HCMC and Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Dong Nai provinces to hand out Christmas gifts to the kids there.
Joynt’s charity trips in 2011 attracted a record number of over 300 classic Vespas.